“When you teach Arabic, you have to teach the culture along with it,” Chuck Pyritz told Sally Ericson at AL.com, when asked about a new Arabic language course offered by Daphne High School in a suburb of Mobile.
This is some of the reaction Sanaa El-Khattabi, a former University of South Alabama professor, has faced since stepping forward to teach the elective course. A group of parents has the Baldwin County school system in a full press to drop the class, describing it as a first step in indoctrination into Islam and Sharia law.
Daphne is about 11 miles east of Mobile and the school has about 1,400 enrolled students, including pupils from about 30 different countries, AL.com reported.
The concerns of parents do not come completely from a vacuum. Daphne appears to have produced an actual jihadist — Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, “The American” — who was Daphne High School student Omar Shafik Hammami before dropping out 10 years ago, ultimately joining al-Shabaab in Somalia. Hammami appears to have been killed by other jihadists a few weeks ago, but his death has been declared more than once.
Pyritz and others sharing his view cite Hammami’s case as a reason to keep Arabic out of their school, with some calling it “a language of a religion of hate.”
School leaders say they’re trying to offer a curriculum that holds value in a highly-interconnected world, particularly with regard to international business. “I’m sure many parents will want their children to learn Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese or Arabic,” said Alan Lee, superintendent of the Baldwin County school system.
The fight has drawn out parents favoring an international curriculum, who fear what the debate may say about the school and the area. “Narrow-mindedness is bred by ignorance,” Daphne parent and author Elizabeth Denham wrote of the controversy in The Huffington Post. “To listen to those who have said that by teaching Arabic at school, you are teaching “a culture of hate,” would be to encourage ignorance in students that limits their abilities to form their own opinions.”
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State also weighed in, noting “this supposed concern that teaching Arabic is the same as forcing Islam on students. It’s not, and it’s not even close. The school should not be forcing Islam or any other religion on anyone, but we have no evidence that any sort of proselytizing has occurred. We don’t even know if El-Khattabi is a practicing Muslim.”